Grow your global presence
In today’s interconnected global business climate, COVID-19 is affecting the way Canadian companies operate. Many are turning to e-commerce as a way to translate today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.
Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) can help companies who are looking to start doing business online with customers abroad, or who are already selling internationally.
Access pertinent information and resources for your business to better understand what it means to go digital.
It’s time for digital adoption
Traditionally, running a business meant having physical office space and in-person contact with your network of clients, suppliers, partners, and others. Spaces like boardrooms, sales floors, and practices like shaking hands were part of doing good business. Now, many businesses are shifting to a digital first model, or plan to operate entirely online.
Going digital is more than just buying the right software or launching a website. It means understanding and adopting the right technologies and business processes to:
- allow your employees to work effectively no matter where they are
- sell your goods and services over the Internet and manage supply chains
- provide online service and support to customers
- use technology to seamlessly link sales with production and support functions
Digital adoption can save your company money, create a more flexible work environment, and allow you to sell more easily to customers around the world. It can fuel your growth and help you succeed.
Due to COVID-19, many businesses are slowing down, stepping back and re-shaping their business model. Take this time to adopt a digital strategy that will accelerate your resilience and competitive advantage in the global marketplace.
What is digital adoption?
Digital adoption is more than just taking your business online. It’s the idea that as you adopt digital tools for your business, that you fully understand their capabilities and use them to the fullest extent. To do this, you may have to upskill yourself and your team, or hire people who have the technical skills to develop and implement a successful digital strategy.
Be cautious of buying expensive tools for your business thinking they will solve problems and help create efficiencies. It is important to first understand how they fit within your organization or how to use them. Sometimes, business owners will spend thousands of dollars on tools that they do not use to their full potential or weren’t the right tool to begin with. This ultimately costs their companies valuable resources.
By going digital, you might be juggling new websites, chatbots, analytics and communications tools all at the same time, which can be overwhelming even for tech savvy team members. To help your company make the most of its digital transformation, ensure you have the right skills on your team. Depending on your needs, you can invest in upskilling with a digital-first mindset, or hire new talent on your team.
Develop your digital strategy
A comprehensive digital adoption strategy must bring together all of your business functions, both domestic and international. Begin by assessing your needs, mapping out which parts of your business are suitable for digitization and developing a plan. Looking at the big picture can help you choose technologies that work well together without overlapping capabilities.
When developing your strategy and assessing potential solutions, consider the following questions:
- Are you ready to export? If you aren’t sure, you can take our quiz to find out!
- Does your team have the skills to successfully develop, implement, and maintain a digital business?
- Which business functions do you want to integrate into your digital solution? How can you ensure that purchasing, manufacturing, inventory control, sales, customer service and other functions are all integrated and using the same or compatible IT systems?
- Which languages do you need your solution to support for internal operations and for sales?
- What are the different user roles your solution must provide and what access rights do you need to assign to various people on your team?
- What types of digital solutions would make your employees more productive? What would help them to do their job more effectively, or collaborate better? What types of tools or functionality would your employees appreciate?
- Where do you see your company going over the next five years and how can your digital strategy support that?
- Would you like the assistance of a Trade Commissioner? If so, contact us.
In this guide, we’ll focus specifically on the aspects of your digital strategy related to selling your goods and services around the world.
Get support from the TCS and our partners
The Trade Commissioner Service and our partners have different support to help you start and grow your e-commerce business.
Build your global digital support team
A successful digital strategy requires a strong digital support team. Make sure you have these resources supporting you as you adopt a digital strategy and roll it out globally:
Ensure you have technical support for the platforms you use for your website and other aspects of your digital adoption. Have an agreement or contract in place with your service provider to fix problems or make changes rapidly. Or, consider hiring in-house technical staff.
If you have a website in multiple languages, make sure you have customer support in those languages too. Look into using chatbots, online customer support chat and rapid email response in the languages you support.
Select an e-commerce solution that has a built in payment processor to serve your target markets.
Supply chain management
Think about how you will get your product to your customers. This includes shipping, but could also include warehousing goods in markets where you do business. Talk to potential supply chain management providers and see how they can integrate with your company’s digital solutions for customer support and inventory control. Make sure the companies you work with have experience with international business issues such as dealing with customs.
People on the ground
Traditionally companies have relied on business travel to reach customers in foreign markets. Sales people, technical staff, and service providers would travel to close deals and provide on-site support for customers. To reduce your reliance on business travel, you can use a combination of technology and people on the ground. Consider hiring staff or contractors or finding business partners in your target markets to help you serve your customers.
Make sure you have a good lawyer who can advise you on legal matters related to doing business internationally over the Internet.
Protect your business in a global digital environment
When you move your business onto the Internet and open it up to the world, you need to take additional steps to protect your business from threats and competition.
Protect your intellectual property (IP)
Registering your IP in Canada only protects you in Canada. Taking your business digital and offering products and services to customers around the world can leave your intellectual property vulnerable. Take stock of your IP and develop a strategy that is aligned with your exporting plan and your digital strategy.
Intellectual property resources
Digital businesses can be vulnerable to cyber attacks. Your business should implement measures to protect your digital assets in five key areas:
You can also get insurance to help protect your business from the costs of recovering from a cyber attack.
Privacy and personal information protection
Using a digital model involves more transactions with personal information and more storage of personal information. Make sure you have practices in place that protect your customers, your employees and your business while also meeting all legal requirements.
Privacy and personal information protection resources
- Privacy Guides for Businesses including e-marketing, collecting personal information and consent, transferring data across borders and more (Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada)
- How the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation Impacts Canadian Companies (Standards Council of Canada)
Allowing customers to buy your products and services at the click of a button can increase your sales. Getting the right e-commerce solution in place to serve diverse markets around the world can be complex.
Consider these options:
Instead of selling on your own website, you can list your products through online marketplaces. Choose between a general, sector or geographic-specific marketplace to increase exposure for your products and attract customers to your business. See our list of online marketplace profiles for more information.
Companies such as Shopify offer a plug-and-play subscription-based e-commerce solution for you to sell to your customers via your own website. You can customize this solution for specific markets, which helps you:
- list products
- accept payments in other currencies
- arrange shipping to foreign markets with ease
Shopify Compass offers a wealth of online courses, webinars and features plenty of frequently updated e-commerce content.
You can choose to sell your products exclusively via existing retailers. You can sell your products in their stores and websites, or in some cases, online only.
Custom in-house solution
If you have specific needs that online marketplaces or template-based storefronts do not meet, you can develop your own e-commerce solution. This is more complex and more expensive, but may be the right solution for companies with specific needs.
Tip: Using analytics to your advantage
When you implement an e-commerce solution, one of your most powerful tools for success are analytics. By implementing and regularly reviewing analytics reports, you can gain insights about:
- who is visiting your website
- what they’re looking for
- what they put into their shopping cart
- when they leave without finalizing the purchase (shopping cart abandonment)
Whatever e-commerce solution you choose, make sure you have access to analytics that will give you valuable insight into your customers. Create a weekly or monthly process where you take time to analyze the data you gathered. Then adjust or continue the tactics you’re using to target and convert your customers.
When selling online you’ll need to consider key logistical issues such as:
Shipping can be expensive. It’s important to find out how much it will cost and to price products accordingly. To remain competitive, some companies offer free shipping, but this route can be unaffordable and unsustainable for smaller businesses. Consider enticing your customers by offering free shipping for orders of $200 or more, take part in ‘free shipping’ days or other methods. See the Step-by-step guide to shipping outside of Canada (Canada Post) for rates and best practices and information on Shippers and shipping (Trade Commissioner Service).
How to price your goods for different markets, different currencies and currency fluctuations, shipping and other costs. Pricing is a big factor in the success of your business and there are many strategies for pricing your product. For example, you can use:
- a market-oriented pricing model, which allows you to set your prices based on current market prices, selling your product for higher, the same as, or lower than competitors with the same products in your target market
- the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP), which can save you time without having to analyze the market too much
- Keystone Pricing, which is when you set the price of your product at double the cost of what you originally paid for it
These are just three potential pricing strategies, with many more out there. Whichever strategy you choose, it’s important to research your target market. This will help you to understand what your potential customers are willing to spend as well as your competitors prices. Do your homework to discover other pricing methods and which one works best for your business.
Have a return policy that is clear, simple and convenient for your customers. See Recipe for a Five-Star Returns Experience for Your Online Store (Canada Post).
Make sure your packaging meets all requirements for shipping and customs. Also consider making packaging fun with interesting designs or inspirational content. Make it stand out among the many packages that arrive in the mail.
- Step-by-Step Guide to Exporting – Step 10 – Selling Online: e-Commerce for Exporters (Trade Commissioner Service)
- E-commerce for Business : A Platform Primer (Export Development Canada)
- The Future of Commerce is Global: Why and How to Take your Business International (Shopify)
- Canadian Free Trade Agreements and Investment Agreements (Global Affairs Canada)
- Country specific guides (Trade Commissioner Service):
Deliver services virtually
A lot of companies are service exporters and don’t even realize it. If your company sells services to customers from other countries, you’re an exporter. Service exports can include:
- software as a service (SaaS) providers with customers outside Canada
- tourist destinations that attract guests from other countries
- education and training courses offered in person or over the Internet to international participants
- installation and maintenance services provided when a foreign customer buys equipment
- international consulting
Many small local service providers are starting to move to digital models, for example:
- professional training courses usually offered in person are moving online
- small gyms and yoga studios are moving towards training clients over the Internet
- services like healthcare, legal advice and real estate are offering digital services
Once your business has introduced a digital model to serve existing clients, you can leverage it to help grow your business into other countries.
When digitizing your service, consider these questions:
- How can you adapt your in-person service to deliver it online?
- Which technology is best to deliver the service?
- How should you tailor your service to different markets, considering language differences, cultural differences, time zones and other factors?
- Do you need to work with partners or hire local staff in other countries to help you deliver your service (e.g. for logistics, maintenance, installation)?
- How can you leverage digital technology to ensure your local staff and customers can best leverage your company’s experts?
- How should you price your digital service offering, considering the cost savings (e.g. no need to travel) and additional costs (new technology), but also the perceived value of an online service versus an in-person experience?
Promote your business online
An important step to going digital is ensuring your business has a distinguished online presence. Your website should have:
- up-to-date, clear descriptions and images of your products and services
- a clear call to action (add to cart, contact us for a quote, download a trial version, etc.)
- examples of clients you’ve worked with or successful projects you’ve completed (consider adding testimonials or reviews)
- ways to connect with your customer service team
- clickable social media accounts to engage with existing and prospective customers
Most people use mobile for browsing the web, so ensure your website works well on all types of devices. You should use search engine optimization techniques to help prospective customers find you.
The more important a market is to your company, the greater the need for a country-specific version of your website. You could have one website with multiple language toggles, or have unique websites using domains such as .ca, .com, .co.uk. As a Canadian company, you can benefit from using the .ca domain because of the positive association of Canadian goods and international brand recognition.
Even if you are just beginning to sell internationally, ensure your website clearly indicates that you do sell outside of Canada (e.g. “we ship worldwide”). To reach customers around the world, consider creating different versions of your website and social media accounts for unique markets that:
- use local languages and adapt your messages to reflect cultural differences (See our guide on Intercultural Business)
- reflect any product adaptations you have made to your product or service to meet local preferences, standards or regulations
- show the packaging and labelling that you use for your product in that country
- provides pricing in the local currency
- use the domain extension common in that country (such as .uk, .fr, .jp)
- use the social media platforms that are most commonly used in your target markets
To promote your business online, consider creating an online advertising strategy. You can advertise on social media platforms, use Google ads and more, targeting large amounts of potential customers in markets around the world.
It’s important to see if your website and online channels are getting results through analytics. This includes views, clicks and conversions, e.g. when someone makes a purchase, joins your mailing list, or any other desired action based on your strategy. Remember to set up analytics for your website and other digital channels to start gathering data from the beginning. Your analytics can tell you if your tactics are working or not!
Online promotion resources
- Guide: Spotlight on International Marketing: Key considerations and best practices for marketing your company internationally, including product localization, pricing, distribution, promotion (Trade Commissioner Service)
- Courses on how to set up and optimize each step of your e-commerce process (Forum for International Trade Training)
- How to Build a Website for Your Business (Business Development Bank of Canada)
- Articles on Implementing Digital Marketing Strategies, including online marketing, content marketing, search engine optimization, online advertising, and social media (Business Development Bank of Canada)
Funding and support available to you
Moving from a bricks and mortar to a digital first model can be daunting, but you don’t need to do it alone. You can hire experts to help and can take advantage of government programs to get started. The Trade Commissioner Service’s CanExport for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises offers up to $75,000 to:
- help you break into international markets
- cover some costs related to digital adoption such as adaptation and translation of marketing tools
- search engine optimization
- expert advice from legal and business experts
- intellectual property protection
If you have a high-potential startup or scale-up company with an existing technology, product or service, Canadian Technology Accelerators (CTA) can support your international business growth in North America, Asia, and Europe. CTA’s give your business a soft landing and introductions to potential investors, partners and customers.
The Business Development Bank of Canada offers loans for businesses to purchase or upgrade their information and communications technology. This includes hardware, software and related advisory services.
Use the Innovation Canada portal to find federal and provincial government supports that could facilitate your digital strategy.
Act now to get ahead
Shifts in consumer behaviour, increased rates of online shopping as well as the impacts of COVID-19 are driving companies like yours to adopt a digital first model. By going digital, borders become less of a barrier and the world becomes your market, unleashing opportunities to tap into new customers like never before. Get started now and develop your digital strategy!
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